January 15, 2023: The thick crescent moon is near Spica before sunup. After sundown, Venus moves closer to Saturn for a conjunction in a week. Jupiter and Mars are in the evening sky as well.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 7:16 a.m. CST; Sunset, 4:45 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location. Times are calculated from the U.S. Naval Observatory’s MICA computer program.
The sunrise time is moving earlier every few days. By month’s end the sun rises at 7:04 a.m. CST in Chicago.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot’s transit times, when it is in the center of the planet in the southern hemisphere: 1:58 UT, 11:54 UT, 21:49 UT. Convert the time to your time zone. In the US, subtract five hours for EST, six hours for CST, and so on. Use a telescope to see the spot. Times are from Sky & Telescope magazine.
Summaries of Current Sky Events
Here is today’s planet forecast:
This morning a thick crescent moon, 46% illuminated, is over one-third of the way up in the south, 6.5° to the left of Spica, Virgo’s brightest star. The lunar orb is to the right of the Scorpion’s classic pincers, Zubeneschamali and Zubenelgenubi, now the brightest stars in Libra.
Mercury is climbing into the morning sky, rising 74 minutes before sunrise. At forty-five minutes before sunup, it is less than 5° above the east-southeast horizon. It is still rather dim, but visible through a binocular. The planet appears higher and brighter during the next several days.
When Mercury and Venus move from the evening sky to a morning view, they retrograde. Mercury’s retrograde continues through the 19th. On that morning, it is over 6° above the horizon and over 13° to the left of the thin crescent moon.
Mercury reaches its greatest separation from the sun on the 30th, rising 86 minutes before the sun. The best mornings for Mercury viewing occur starting on the 21st and lasting through the 26th, when the planet rises 93 minutes before the sun. It is among the brightest stars in the sky at this hour on those mornings. The planet’s altitude – height above the horizon – is low, less than 10°. To see Mercury at its best, begin scouting for a location with a clear horizon toward the southeast
Beginning tomorrow, look for earthshine on the night portion of the moon. Reflected sunlight from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land gently illuminates the lunar night.
The lunar orb is near the Scorpion’s southern claw during tomorrow’s morning twilight.
After sundown, Venus is moving toward Saturn for a conjunction on the 22nd. The Evening star is less than 10° up in the west-southwest at 45 minutes after sundown, 7.9° to the lower right of dimmer Saturn. Venus cuts the gap over 1° each evening.
After the conjunction with Saturn, Venus moves toward Jupiter that is over halfway up in the south-southwest. Tonight, the gap is nearly 50° to the Jovian Giant. Venus passes Jupiter on March 1st.
Farther eastward, Mars is over halfway up in the east, 8.5° to the upper left of Aldebaran, Taurus’ brightest star. The Red Planet is slowing moving eastward after its retrograde ended a few evenings ago. Now over a month after its opposition with the sun and closest approach to Earth, Mars is dimming as our world moves away from it.
As the sky darkens further, Taurus’ dimmer stars appear. The Pleiades star cluster, resembling a miniature dipper, may initially catch your view. They are spectacular through a binocular – a few dozen stars, resembling sapphires on the dark velvet of the sky. From urban and suburban settings, a binocular is needed to see the Hyades star cluster – along with Aldebaran outlining the Bull’s head. The horns are marked by Elnath and Zeta Tauri.
Look toward Saturn through the binocular. It is plodding eastward in eastern Capricornus, near Deneb Algedi and dim 45 Capricorni (45 Cap on the chart). The planet is 1.4° to the upper right of Deneb Algedi and 0.4° to the upper left of 45 Cap, noticeably east of both stars.
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